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Chomsky and Sapir

Chomsky was also instrumental in the demise of behaviorism in psychology in favor of cognitive theory. He viewed linguistics as no more than a branch of cognitive psychology that tried to uncover the basics mental structures that give an individual linguistic competence. However, at best, Chomsky thought a knowledge of these competence structures and linguistic performance were only capable of giving the linguist a difficult road map into the individual’s linguistic knowledge, “The basic assumption is that there is a language faculty, some special aspect of the mind/brain which is dedicated to the use of language. The language faculty consists of a cognitive system which stores information, and various performance systems which access the information” (Noam 1).

One of Chomsky’s most revolutionary findings was that the corpus (language performance) was a poor tool for linguistic study. Instead, he argued that competence, our internalized knowledge of a language, is much more significant to understanding language and its mental mechanisms than performance which he viewed as external, and flawed, evidence that does not accurately reveal competence. A corpus is an external collection of utterances or performance data which he saw as a poor tool for modeling linguistic competence. If performance is a poor measure of competence then, Chomsky argued, it is impossible


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Chomsky and Sapir. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 08:41, October 24, 2014, from
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